Migraine - A Chinese Medicine approach
If you thought chik-V could bend a person out of shape, the pain of a migraine headache can be just as debilitating. A migraine headache is characterised by intense throbbing or pulsing in one area of the head. It is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. A migraine attack can cause significant pain for hours or days and may occur several times a month or much less often.
Migraines may progress through four stages, though all of these stages may not be experienced.
Prodrome: Subtle signs a day or two before the onset of a migraine, such as:
- Food cravings
- Neck stiffness
- Uncontrollable yawning
Aura may occur before or during a migraine and lasting up to 60 minutes. Symptoms include:
- Visual disturbances: seeing various shapes, bright spots or flashes of light, vision loss.
- Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg.
- Speech or language problems.
- Limb weakness (less common).
Symptoms of a migraine include:
- Pain on one or both sides of the head.
- Pulsating or throbbing pain.
- Sensitivity to light, sound and sometimes smell.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Blurred vision.
- Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting.
This is the final phase after the migraine attack, which is usually characterised by a drained feeling or even a mild euphoric feeling in some cases.
A migraine may be triggered by:
- Hormonal changes in women: fluctuations in estrogen, such as, immediately before or during periods, when there is a major drop in estrogen; during pregnancy or menopause.
- Hormonal medications: oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy.
- Aged cheeses, salty and processed foods.
- Skipping meals or fasting.
- Food additives: Aspartame sweetener and the preservative monosodium glutamate (msg).
- Sensory stimuli: bright lights, loud sounds, unusual smells.
- Changes in wake-sleep pattern.
- Intense physical exertion.
- Changes in weather.
- Medications: vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin.
Acupuncture has been used with great success in the management and treatment of migraines. It helps to both reduce the frequency and intensity of the migraine and, in some cases, patients have gone years without the occurrence of a migraine. Acupuncture points are selected from the close to 1,000 points on the ear and body. The points are stimulated by the insertion of very thin needles which aim to regulate the flow of qi in the upper jiao (head). Needles are left in for 30 minutes, during which time most persons fall asleep. Key points are:
- Yin tang
Treatment will vary depending on the accompanying symptoms. In the case of a migraine where there is nausea and vomiting, acupuncture points would be included which support the digestive qi. On the other hand, in cases where migraines are accompanied by lightheadedness, acupuncture points are selected which clear heat and relieve lightheadedness as well.
Other techniques can prove helpful, such as:
1. Relaxation techniques: Tai chi, yoga, meditation.
2. Getting enough sleep, but don't oversleep.
3. Avoid known triggers as much as possible, such as those noted above (this will vary from person to person).
- Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org